Environment at risk of ‘zombie’ laws, MPs warn

Wakefield MP Mary Creagh said Brexit changes put the countryside, farming and wildlife at risk.
Wakefield MP Mary Creagh said Brexit changes put the countryside, farming and wildlife at risk.
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A watchdog group of MPs wants new UK laws to be introduced as Britain leaves the European Union so that the nation’s strong environmental standards are not eroded.

Protections for Britain’s wildlife which are currently guaranteed under European law could end up as “zombie legislation”, warned Wakefield MP Mary Creagh, as a report published today outlined MPs’ concerns and made seven recommendations for government to act upon.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said that EU law will be initially ported directly onto a British legal basis by way of a Great Repeal Bill, but the MPs’ report argues that merely copying legislation will not be enough to ensure that up to one-third of the UK’s environmental protections remain in place.

Giving an example, the MPs said the EU Birds and Habitats directives which protect wild birds and Britain’s most important wildlife and plant habitats would no longer apply in their current form in UK law and this could have “potentially far-reaching negative consequences” for the UK’s biodiversity.

The report by the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee states: “Simply transposing legislation without replacing the governance arrangements will lead to significant weakening of environmental protections in many areas, such as the lack of reference to a higher court and the absence of a body updating and enforcing legislation.

“The Government should publish a review of European environmental law as soon as possible. Any provisions which cannot be transposed into UK law should form the basis of a new Environmental Protection Act, which should receive Royal Assent before the UK leaves the EU.”

The Committee added that the Government must set out how it will replicate or enhance environmental protection post-Brexit to make good on its manifesto pledge to be “the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it”, and that the new Environmental Protection Act should be introduced during the formal Article 50 exit negotiations between Britain and the EU.

With EU farm subsidies accounting for more than half of UK farm income and the threat of hugely costly tariffs for exports of British produce, committee chairwoman Mrs Creagh, also called on the Government to explain what its plans are for farm subsidies once British farmers stop receiving payments in 2020.

The West Yorkshire MP said she was concerned that the Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom gave the Committee no reassurance that there would be subsidies for farmers after Brexit.

And the Committee warned of farmers facing a “triple jeopardy”, as new trading relationships with the rest of the world could also cause increased competition from larger economies with lower animal welfare, food safety and environmental standards.

Mrs Creagh said: “Changes from Brexit could put our countryside, farming and wildlife at risk.

“UK farming faces significant risks - from a loss of subsidies and tariffs on farm exports, to increased competition from countries with weaker food, animal welfare and environmental standards. The Government must not trade away these key protections as we leave the EU. It should also give clarity over any future farm subsidies.”

The Government is expected to issue a full formal response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s report in due course, but a government spokesperson did say: “The UK has a long history of wildlife and environmental protection and we are committed to safeguarding and improving these, securing the best deal for Britain as we leave the EU.”